Eurocrats in need of love

Lhe international press has recently been buzzing about the signs of hostility in Brussels against the Eurocrats. « Eurocrat, use your tie » says a slogan painted on walls and posted as stickers illustrated by the drawing of a civil servant… hanging from his tie.

A local humor that did not please the unions and associations of officials of the European institutions: in a letter alerting the highest authorities of the Union, they denounce the « many press organs relayed by associations and anti-European lobbies [qui] are regularly engaged in slanderous attacks against the European Civil Service », and insist on the « necessity and urgency to ensure the effective defense of the staff of the Institutions not only defamed (…) but now physically intimidated and reviled ». It is true that « a group of activists », on the bangs of the March of the Indignados last March, greeted Eurocrats at the exit of the metro with « intimidation, jeers » and songs with « hateful words ». These « leaders » even painted slogans such as « Eurocrats of shit! » Big deal. It is no longer safe anywhere. Even in one of the most guarded areas of the city, but where it is still necessary to venture out onto the public highway to enter the Union citadels. The sealing off of the European district during the European Summits is no longer enough, the Belgian authorities must reinforce the police presence there! Because from graffiti to terrorism, there is only one step…

An ungrateful people

In the mouths of the inhabitants of Brussels, the neologism eurocrat refers pejoratively and indiscriminately to several categories of people transiting through Brussels or coming to live there, directly or indirectly in connection with European affairs. A bit like the schieven architek, which they used in the past to designate the developers and bureaucrats responsible for the destruction of their neighborhoods in order to erect the largest courthouse on the planet.

Today, Brussels is an international capital. The 20 years (1866–1883) that were necessary for the construction of the Palais de Justice, now correspond to the life span of a new office building. The work sites are less long, but it is true that there are more. The city is constantly changing. Only the mentality of the people of Brussels and their poor capacity for discernment seem not to have evolved! Now it is the presence of the European institutions and their entourage of bureaucrats that is felt to be disproportionate and contemptuous. Of the 190,000 Europeans living in Brussels, about 110,000 (40,000 civil servants, 20,000 lobbyists,…), or 10% of the regional population, are linked to the European institutions and are thus stigmatized on a daily basis, caricatured by the image of the well-dressed man, a badge around his neck, pulling his wheeled suitcase with a quick step. Instead of being grateful to the Institution that has been avoiding war for half a century, they complain about the small inconveniences that its location in their city brings them… which they compare to Beirut. Strangers to the taste of innovation and grand gestures, they prefer old cobblestones to mineral spaces and small houses to the flamboyant glass and concrete buildings that make the modernity of the Brussels skyline. In short, they are conservative. And ungrateful. They forget a little quickly that the European presence in Brussels has increased their GDP and allows their Region to play on the international stage of competition between large cities. Do they realize that without the Institutions, Brussels would be a miserable little provincial town?

Fortunately, there are among them political decision-makers, investors or architects who have a sense of history and responsibility, and do not hesitate to take unpopular decisions. Thanks to these visionaries, Brussels now has nearly 13,000,000 m² of office space (of which more or less 1/4 are empty), of which 3,500,000 are occupied by activities closely or distantly related to Europe…

Conquering hearts and minds

However, public authorities and investors are doing everything they can to promote the harmonious integration of Europeans into local society. Sports facilities and stores are reserved for them. Trendy bakeries and pubs for them flourish far beyond the European quarter. Group outings are organized for their trainees. Schools and nurseries are open for their children…

As for the Institutions, they do not miss an opportunity to show their human face and seduce the indigenous population. They distribute in their Info Point brochures with endless reproductions of yellow stars on a blue background and the flags of the member countries on glossy paper. They organize popular celebrations gracing the facade of the European Parliament with spectacular illuminations. They are planning to open a museum dedicated to their own glory. Once a year, they invite ordinary people to get a feel for European democracy by visiting the headquarters of the institutions, a unique opportunity to walk on the same carpet and sit at the same tables as European decision-makers, to discover touching educational films extolling the merits of the Union and dubbed in all languages by the warm voices of interpreters experienced in the exercise of simultaneous translation, and even to taste the delicious dishes at unbeatable prices in Sodexho restaurants that are inaccessible the rest of the year, all while receiving gifts for the whole family: bags, pencils and inflatable balloons in European colors… What do the people want?

But clichés are hard to get rid of and there is no shortage of bad tongues to perpetuate them. Thus, one often hears chagrined spirits complaining that the image of Brussels in the world has become that of a sort of bureaucratic fortress worthy of the Kremlin; that the urban planning rules are tailored to favor the deployment of European offices; that the purchasing power of Europeans, which is much higher than the average of the inhabitants, contributes to the rise in rents and makes housing inaccessible to the inhabitants of Brussels; etc. Some followers of ideologies from another age go so far as to insinuate that the Eurocrats would defend their privileges (salaries, advantageous pensions, preferential tax treatment,…) while their opaque and anti-democratic institutions would be responsible for the current austerity and therefore for the unravelling of the public service in the member countries.

In order to « fight back effectively » against this outpouring of snarky drivel, the European professional organizations are asking that « all stakeholders in the reform process of [leur] Status show the utmost discernment in their communication with the press in order to avoid that the media propagate various allegations based on hasty and poorly documented generalizations facilitating their subsequent exploitation by populist associations whose only motivation is to tarnish the image of Europe ». In other words: it is better not to talk too much about the ongoing negotiations on the salaries of European civil servants, otherwise « at the next stage there will be casualties ».

Their analysis is in line with that of the public authorities: the integration of the European institutions in Brussels is perfectly successful and is a perfect symbol of the proximity that the Union cultivates with its citizens. If there is a problem, it is at most a communication problem. The people of Brussels are misinformed. The joint efforts of the police and the Union’s communication services will certainly remedy this…

Gwenaël Breës

Espace membre

Member area